A Potentially Lethal Error

Addict patient with a COVID-19
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The Underreported Effects of Substance Abuse on Your Heart and Lungs

In light of the viral pandemic spreading across America, people are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting their health. COVID-19 is more likely to affect people who are immunocompromised or who have poor respiratory or cardiovascular health.

But what about those who use drugs and alcohol? People who are addicted to substances are at increased risk for contracting this highly contagious illness, primarily because of the severe and often under-reported effects that drug use and drinking has on the heart and lungs.

Drug and Alcohol Use and Heart Health

A great deal of research has been done that tells us drug use and drinking is harmful to the heart. Most drugs cause damage to the cardiovascular system, ranging from an abnormal heart rate all the way up to a lethal heart attack. Furthermore, IV drug use can cause collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.

And it’s not just drugs that are harmful. Heavy consumption of alcohol also damages the heart. When people drink to excess, they increase their chances of experiencing cardiomyopathy (diseases of the heart muscle). Alcohol consumption also leads to high blood pressure which can lead to more serious heart conditions further down the line.

Furthermore, even just consistently drinking alcohol, day after day, even if one thinks they are drinking in moderation, has harmful effects and lowers life expectancy. Researchers found that people who consistently consumed ten alcoholic drinks per week died one to two years earlier than those who drank five or fewer drinks per week. Eighteen or more drinks per week cut life expectancy by four to five years.

Drug Use and Lung Health

Lungs damage
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Every type of drug snorted, smoked, or otherwise passed through the lungs is going to have a particularly harmful effect on the lungs. That includes smoking marijuana, smoking heroin, snorting powdered cocaine, smoking crack cocaine, smoking meth, etc. Using drugs can cause bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, various respiratory problems, lung damage, severe respiratory problems, slowed breathing, and worsened asthma symptoms.

If the lungs are damaged by substance abuse, the protective lining around the lungs will not be as effective in warding off pathogens and other microscopic invaders. With that in mind, smoking or snorting substances causes exponential damage because one is subjecting their body to the harm of the drug chemicals themselves and reducing their body’s natural ability to fight infection.

Addiction and COVID-19

People should always take precautions to better protect their health, and those who are addicted to substances should seek help. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more critical that substance abusers get help now. Their health and their lives are at stake, perhaps now more so than ever before.

Not only does drug and alcohol misuse harm the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, but substance abuse also reduces immune function. That makes it more likely an addict will become sick if exposed to a virus or bacteria.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggested that public health providers and the research community be especially mindful of the fact that COVID-19 may have a particularly harsh effect on those with substance abuse disorders.

Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs first and foremost, people who smoke cigarettes and marijuana are at high risk. And because of the harmful effects of COVID-19 on the heart, people who use opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine are also at particular risk.

Last but not least, people who use drugs and alcohol are less likely to seek help at a health center or even to have access to public health facilities. All of the above factors make for a particularly concerning increase in risk for those who use drugs and alcohol.

Getting Help for a Loved One During These Challenging Times

There is never a better time to get help for a drug problem than right now. If you know someone who is struggling with a drug habit, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a life or death crisis they are faced with. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your loved one is already living at risk because of their drug use or drinking. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your loved one is now in even more danger due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who struggle with substance abuse must seek help at a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Such programs offer effective and lasting approaches to overcoming addiction. Don’t wait until it is too late for your loved one. Help them by contacting a drug rehab today.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.